Extraction is defined as “the action of taking something, especially using effort or force.” In terms of cannabis, extraction involves taking out the good stuff – the compounds we want – and leaving behind the stuff we don’t need. Cannabis extraction is what makes concentrates like wax and shatter.
Extraction itself is not an overly complex process (and it’s certainly not limited to marijuana). It’s nothing new, either: cannabis extraction has been around for centuries. This isn’t to say it was always as well-honed or scientific as it is now; there were no sterile labs in ancient times. The process has grown in its accuracy, efficiency, and safety.
The reason for extraction has to do with the power of cannabinoids: concentrates are called such for a reason – they’re concentrated creations. It’s also easier to know the dosage of a concentrate, which makes them attractive to medical marijuana patients (as well as recreational folks who want to obtain a particular high).
Still, concentrates are potent – much more potent than flowers. For people who are newbies to the doobies, they’re not recommended as a starter drug (especially not without taking some precautions – i.e., experimenting at home rather than out in public).
How Extraction Works
Extraction is like taking marijuana’s best features and producing super dope. It starts by selecting the correct parts of the cannabis plant. High-quality concentrates are usually made with dried cannabis that has been properly cured. Using cannabis that hasn’t been treated with pesticides is important as well – you don’t want your concentrate to also be concentrated with dangerous chemicals.
Concentrates aren’t all about getting high – if you want a concentrate that’s rich in CBD, you can choose to use a strain that is high CBD/low THC. Your choice in strain will dictate how potent your creation (from a psychoactive standpoint). Extraction pulls out the terpenes and flavonoids as much as it pulls out the screaming good time.
The extraction process involves removal of the resin from the plant matter while leaving behind anything that can make the creation dangerous or ill-tasting.
Some people opt to make concentrates themselves, but this is very dangerous without the proper equipment or training. Even if you manage not to burn down your garage, your concentrate may not be good for you. Improper extraction leaves behind things like butane.
Speaking of butane, let’s move onto the most common types of solvent-based extraction.
Extraction with Butane
Butane is a colorless gas that smells like petroleum. It’s used in things like fuel and cigarette lighters. You don’t have to have your MD to know it’s not exactly good for the body. It is, however, good for extraction.
Some people use butane to make concentrates at home (again, this is dangerous) but it’s also used on the industrial level. The way the extraction works is fairly straight-forward: a tube is filled with plant material and butane is introduced. The cannabis/butane solution drips into a bowl or dish through a screen small enough to keep the plant material from escaping.
Ridding the concentrate of butane is tricky and involves heating the solution and allowing the butane gas to escape through a hot water bath concoction. It sounds easy enough, but it’s often hard for laypeople to remove all the butane. That is why home creation isn’t recommended. Buying from people who made their concentrates is not recommended either. Inhaling shatter full of butane will likely offset any of the health benefits cannabis offers.
Extraction with Ethanol
Ethanol is another solvent commonly employed in cannabis extraction. It’s a widely used liquid that we’re often exposed to. From pharmaceuticals to glasses of wine and pints of beer, most of us consume ethanol regularly. But it’s not something you want in your cannabis. Alcohol can be medicine or it can be poison. Too much tips the scales.
Still, ethanol is a common extraction method and one that has been around forever. It works by soaking the cannabis plant in ethanol and then removing the ethanol. People who make concentrates with ethanol often use machines to force evaporation of the liquid. It’s possible to do this at home through a hot water bath, but nowhere near as efficient.
Ethanol seems safer than butane – after all, we willingly go out for a nice glass of Merlot but not so much a tasty glass of lighter fluid. But a cannabis concentrate filled with ethanol is not ideal from a health standpoint. Your taste buds won’t like it either.
Extraction with CO2
Carbon Dioxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is necessary for human and plant life. But it’s also deadly in high concentrations, which is why people are advised to have CO2 detectors on every level of their home and to always open their garage doors before starting their cars.
From an extraction standpoint, CO2 is used to grab the sought-after cannabinoids from the cannabis. Other gasses can be used for this as well (as long as they’re used in liquid form), but CO2 is the most commonly utilized.
The reason CO2 gets the start has to do with its unique ability to work at a relatively low temperature (think Arizona in March). This allows it to produce concentrates with more flavor and a better high.
The process works as follows: the plant material is put into a vessel and CO2 liquid is introduced through the vessel with force. This extraction requires temperature and well as pressure to be successful.
With the right pressure and temperature combo, the terpenes, cannabinoids, and other compounds begin to separate. They’re then collected in separate vessels.
This isn’t really a method done at home, no matter how much you rocked college chemistry. People who extract cannabis with CO2 employ expertise and know the exact pressure and temperature for each terpene and cannabinoid. They know exactly what to do to separate the wax.
This knowledge allows them to modify flavors and go after certain tastes. It also allows them to create concentrates that don’t just get you high but offer a very specific type of high.
Yes, put on your dancing shoes: Mary Jane is that fancy.